Why do we doubt? What is faith’s hold on us?
We heard about Peter, and his attempt at walking on water in today’s gospel, but I want to talk about a different bible story that has been on my mind. I want to talk about Joseph.
You remember Joseph, the precocious boy with the colorful coat? As you probably remember, Joseph was a younger sibling in a very large family. And he was the apple of his father (Jacob’s) eye. Being the favorite didn’t exactly endear him to his siblings, though Jacob probably didn’t notice. Having lots of brothers and sisters can be tough, but they’re still family – at leas that’s probably what Joseph thought.
At least until the day that his brothers threw him into a pit, openly discussed murdering him and finally opted to sell him to travelling merchants as a slave.
I’d like us to stop a minute and imagine that for a moment. I confess I don’t always get on with my siblings and over the years we’ve had differences large and small; maybe it’s the same for you or for your children. But I’ve never imagined they would actually want me dead. But Joseph…
Joseph’s whole world has collapsed. And we’re not just talking metaphorically here. His brothers, some of whom he may have looked up to, who probably had played with him and taught him things, who he loved – had sold him off. Everything he thought he knew, everything he believed about who he was, who his family was, all of it was a lie.
And then, on top of discovering that his brothers didn’t return his love, but actually despised and hated him, Joseph was taken away to a strange place where they spoke a different language and had different customs and weird food. Plus, he was a slave in this strange place with no autonomy or agency of his own. He had gone from favored son to slave.
Part of what really intrigues me about Joseph’s story though, is that once he discovered that he wasn’t loved and valued by his brothers and ended up a slave in Egypt; one of the things Joseph didn’t turn his back on was Jacob’s God. Keep in mind that Egypt was an impressive civilization compared to Joseph’s backwater home and Egypt was the home of many impressive gods while the followers of the God probably only numbered in the dozens; Jacob, his wives and children, some of his slaves and various other hangers on made up the entirety of the people of Israel at this point. But Joseph seems to have never wavered in his trust of God.
I think that’s pretty remarkable. Faith so often seems like an unsteady flame in the wind, ever in danger of being snuffed out. But for Joseph, no tempest was great enough to extinguish his trust in God, his faith. His faith even led him to the ability to forgive his brothers and welcome them into his protection at the moment of their greatest need.
In the Gospels, Peter doesn’t seem too much like Joseph. Peter wears his heart on his sleeve and though he clearly loves Jesus and is devoted to him; he pretty clearly doesn’t 100% trust him. This is never more clear than in the passion story when Peter denies him three times. But it is also clear in today’s story as Jesus calls him out of the boat.
Perhaps no storm was too great to deter Joseph from his trust in God, but a few rising waves and dark clouds were enough to dredge up sufficient doubt in Peter to abandon his trust in Jesus and send him plunging below the surface.
In every generation, the world is given a few Joseph’s. In the story of the saints of Christ, brave martyrs, tireless reformers, stalwart missionaries, we see their contributions and the bright light of their faith.
Most of us though, I expect, are Peters. We sometimes let our doubts discount our faith at the crucial moment. Our heads are unwilling to go where our hearts would take us, where Christ would lead us.
So it is good news for us that in those moments, Christ is prepared to reach down into where our doubts have left us and pull us back up. Christ is ever present to us, and his love for us cannot be turned away. He is ever ready and eager to lift us up, though He may say to us as did to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”